Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Exclusive interview with Linwood Barclay
Once you've read No Time for Goodbye, recently featured in our all-mystery volume, you can't but be curious about the mind that thought up that story. Here are some interesting details on author Linwood Barclay, in an interview conducted by our Select Editions counterparts in the UK.
RD: What was the starting point for this book?
Linwood Barclay: I was thinking about a true story of a family who awoke one day to find that their daughter had gone missing from their home in the middle of the night, and I thought: what if you reversed it? What if a young girl awoke to find all the members of her family gone, without a trace?
RD: And, after that, how did you proceed?
LB: Once you come up with a premise, you have to work out how it all happened. It's a bit like—this may be a bit of stretch—like coming up with a spectacular roof design first. Before you can get it up there, you need to build a solid foundation and supporting structure. Another answer: when I'm working out a plot's finer points, I leave the study and go cut the lawn. It’s a great way to work out story problems.
RD: Are the characters based on anyone? I’m thinking particularly of Terry.
LB: My sensibilities about a lot of things probably come through in Terry, particularly since the book, all but the first chapter, is written in the first person. Most of the other characters are pure invention, and the true identities of any who are based on real people shall remain secret so as to protect, well, me!
RD: Where were you brought up and what was your upbringing like?
LB: I was born in Darien, Connecticut, but in 1959, when I was four, my parents moved to the suburbs of Toronto. Then, in the late 1960s, they bought a cottage in a resort/trailer park in the Kawarthas region of Ontario, and we moved up there. I wrote a book about it in 2000 called Last Resort: Coming of Age in Cottage Country.
RD: And where are you based now?
LB: We're half an hour from Toronto, which offers everything you could want from a city, and a couple of hours from beautiful vacation country. We have it all here, plus George W. Bush is not our president.
RD: Did you always want to write?
LB: Yes. I was filling entire school notebooks with stories by Grade 3. Of course, they were double-spaced and the handwriting was huge.
RD: You have three strands to your career: public speaking, filing a regular column for the Toronto Star and writing novels and humour books. How do you fit it all in?
LB: It's been a bit hectic. I've written six novels in the last five years on top of three columns a week for the Toronto Star and a busy speaking schedule. This coming year I'm going to ease up on speeches, and I'm taking a year's leave of absence from the Star so that I can focus on my next couple of books.
RD: Is there one thing you enjoy doing most, or do you like the variety?
LB: I do enjoy the variety. And the speaking is fun because it not only gets me out of the house but allows me to meet lots of interesting people from different backgrounds.
RD: How did you get into public speaking?
LB: In the mid 90s, my columns mocking our provincial premier-of-the-day here in Ontario, who was attacking hard-working teachers and gutting school budgets for political gain, sparked many invitations to speak to educational organisations. Word of the funny, self-deprecating stories I told in those speeches spread, and I ended
up being asked to speak to all sorts of groups. I was even the featured speaker at
a convention of folks who run parking lots. How many writers can say that? Who knew that parking-lot operators had an association and an annual convention?
RD: Where do you like to write?
LB: In my study at home, surrounded by books, my late father's beautiful paintings of 1950s-era cars—he was a commercial artist whose work appeared in Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, etc., back in the 1950s before car advertisements turned to
photography—and an assortment of toys such as trains, cars, sci-fi kitsch and replicas of spaceships from 1960s Gerry Anderson puppet shows.
RD: Do you have a routine?
LB: Nothing formal, but I'm in my study first thing in the morning. When I'm not on leave from the Star, my priority is the column. I'm reading through the papers, reading news online, looking for inspiration. When that's out of the way, I shift gears and work on a book, if I'm doing one at the time.
RD: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
LB: You have no one to blame but yourself. Or maybe that's the worst thing!
RD: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
LB: I think things are unfolding very nicely for me these days.
RD: You’ve been married for over twenty-five years. What would you say is the secret of a long and happy marriage?
LB: Maintaining a sense of humour, never taking your partner for granted, and resisting the temptation to lift the lid on stuff your wife is cooking to give it a stir.